Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Literal "Temple" (Naos) in 2 Thessalonians 2:4

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thess 2:3–4 ESV)

I want to make some comments on this verse that support a literal temple interpretation.

First, it is often assumed by some interpreters that a colossal Solomonic-like temple complex must be rebuilt. This is not the case, because the term for temple in this verse is naos, which does not require the meaning of a large temple-complex; instead, it can refer to just a tent-like structure or the inner sanctuary, a structure that could evidently be erected in a matter of weeks. Just one hundred years ago it would have been difficult to fathom a reconstituted state of Israel back in their land, nevertheless, it did happen in 1948 in God’s providential purposes. So that historical event should serve as confidence when we read that there will be a future temple. With God all things are possible, however difficult it may be to imagine that Jews would be allowed to build a temple within Islam’s exclusive presence on the Temple Mount. Perhaps a peace accord between Israel and Muslims will permit orthodox Jews to build a tent-like temple sanctuary beside, or even upon, the Temple Mount. However it will materialize, I accept the plain reading of Scripture that there will one day be a literal temple structure, and when the man of lawlessness is revealed he will appropriate the temple for his own blasphemous glory.

Second, rather than taking “God’s temple” in its normal, natural, customary sense, historicist interpreters deny Paul intends a literal future temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Historicism claims Paul’s use of “temple” refers metaphorically to the church since Paul elsewhere uses “temple” for the church. This is mistaken for the following reasons: (1) This commits the corpus-lexical fallacy. Not too mention that Paul actually does use the term (through Luke) in a literal sense in a sermon in Acts. But all that is irrelevant to the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:4. (2) It imposes a foreign context upon the target text. They have to go outside of the immediate context to attempt to make their case. That is because there are no lexical, grammatical, historical, contextual elements that supports a metaphorical interpretation.

The “church” interpretation is weak and lacks support given the additional arguments.

Colin R. Nicholl gives good reasons showing that Paul has in mind a literal temple:

(1) since the author is contradicting the false eschatological claim of 2:2c, we would expect a concrete, observable and conspicuous event.

(2) the use of kathisai [“takes his seat”] seems more naturally to suggest a literal, physical temple.

(3) the definite articles clearly allude to a particular temple of the true God, which can only refer to the Jerusalem temple.

(4) the immediately preceding reference to sebasma [“object of worship”] favours a material temple.”

(From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 126 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 232–33, n. 34.)

Daniel Wallace provides additional reasons:

“It seems that by 63 CE (the date I would assign to 1 Timothy), the idiom [“God’s temple”] had shifted in Christian usage sufficiently that a metaphorical nuance had become the norm. However, it is equally significant that all of the references in the Corinthian correspondence seem to require an explanation (readily supplied by Paul) in order to make the metaphorical sense clear. Thus, for Paul at least, one might chart his development as follows: 50 CE—literal notion is still in view (2 Thess 2:4). Mid-50s—metaphorical notion is developed, but the shift has to be made explicit. 60s—metaphorical notion is clearly in place, requiring no explicit referential clue for this meaning. To sum up the evidence so far: it’s not that 2 Thess 2:4 cannot have the metaphorical notion in view, but rather that on a trajectory of Pauline thought such a possibility seems less likely than a literal temple.”“temple-god”-2-thessalonians-24-literal-or-metaphorical (accessed 3/11/2012).

Finally, Gene L. Green, despite his interpretation that this is a reference to a literal temple in Thessalonica and not Jerusalem, makes an excellent point militating against a metaphorical sense of the temple being “the church.” He writes, “[T]he orientation of the divine claims of the “man of lawlessness” is toward the world at large and not the church.” The Letters to the Thessalonians, 312, emphasis mine.

For more exegesis on this issue and related subjects see here.


No comments:

Post a Comment